From Seabee to Judge: Selfless Service to the Nation

By Patty Tascarella, Pittsburgh Business Times

McCarthy Rally 013Pittsburgh-area Seabees and friends surround Judge Michael McCarthy at the John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.  Bottom Row, L to R: Ralph Lang, Jerry Montecupo, Mike McCarthy, Roland Casasanta, Bernie Obsincs and Jim Jones.  Top Row, L to R: Don Baur, Jack Stephenson, Don Wolfe (in the background), George Staab, Mat Terrick, Dwight White, Jerry Clarke, Randy Judd and Walter Buguielski.

When Michael McCarthy graduated from high school, the self-described “product of the ’60s” also had “an inclination to the military.” McCarthy joined the U.S. Navy’s Two by Four program — two years active duty and four years in the reserves — to become a Seabee in 1969. He was sent to Vietnam a year later.

“I had a draft number of five and won that lottery, so I took the position of going to save the world and defend my country,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, at that time, the current was the domino theory and the tide was to thwart communism in Southeast Asia.”

McCarthy’s tour of service enabled the Pittsburgh native to see a large swath of the world — from Mississippi and Alaska to Australia and Vietnam.

“We had the opportunity to go to a lot of places and do a lot of things — Marine base support, building airfields and brown water river bases for the swift boats,” he said. “It was interesting for a 20-year-old to have those experiences. The Navy teaches discipline and problem solving. You may be an engineer in the field and it may look good on paper, but it may be hard to build when you add in monsoons and mortar attacks.”

When he was discharged, McCarthy enrolled as an English major at Duquesne University. It was there he discovered the Duquesne University Veterans Association. Others were returning from the conflict, he said, and they socialized and assisted each other in the process of matriculation. McCarthy earned his degree in 1976 and was hired by the District Attorney’s office, eventually becoming a wiretap expert in the detective division while continuing his education.

“I went to law school at night, and the ability to do that was probably honed by my military experience — mission-oriented, get the job done and there may be obstacles in the way so you have to figure ways around that to complete the mission,” McCarthy said. “The experience in the Navy gave me the confidence to take on challenges and perform them. When you’re 20 years old and been in a combat zone, you come back with the sense that ‘I can do this, it isn’t as bad as I’ve seen.’ It hones your mettle. I had huge amounts of responsibility given to me without even the blink of an eye. You have to do the operation and get ready for the next one.”

McCarthy eventually established his own law practice. Again, he noted the impact of his Seabees experience as he established and grew his business.

“If you’re a sole practitioner, you have to pay the bills and have discipline in taking cases,” he said. “So the military gave me the ability to perform not only for clients, but for myself.”

McCarthy, who went on the bench in 2007, has no casual Friday hearings.

“This is court,” he said. “I take it very seriously. We move the cases as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s about applying principles to the operations of the court. The Seabees have a saying, ‘The difficult we do right away. The impossible takes a little longer.'”

He has continued his involvement in organizations such as Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania and the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Veterans Committee, and support of those who have served. He was involved in efforts to establish the Pittsburgh Veterans Court. As a member of Seabee Veterans of America Island XIII, he helps build ramps and other construction projects at YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell, which supports military families. In 2011, McCarthy was honored with the Friend & Patriot of the Year Award from the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Military Museum for his work to raise funding and build awareness about issues facing veterans.

“I believe I owe my fellow veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made, and one of the best ways is to work through (Veterans Administration) support,” McCarthy said.

He also serves on the board of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s Fisher House, which provides a hotel setting on the VA campus in Oakland for families who have loved ones hospitalized for extended stays.

(Reprinted with permission from the Pittsburgh Business Times)

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